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When Does a Death Qualify for Wrongful Death?

Posted on 04/26/22

If you have lost someone that you love due to the actions of another individual or entity in Pennsylvania, you may be wondering whether or not you can file a wrongful death claim. These cases can be challenging, and understanding whether or not a death qualifies for these claims can be confusing. We strongly encourage you to work with a skilled West Chester wrongful death attorney who can help you determine whether or not your case is viable. Here, we want to discuss some basic factors that should be in place for a successful wrongful death lawsuit.

What Pennsylvania Law Says About Wrongful Death Claims

It is important to examine exactly what Pennsylvania law says about wrongful death claims (42 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. § 8301 (2021). The law in the Commonwealth defines wrongful death as a death that is “caused by the wrongful act or neglect or unlawful violence or negligence of another.” We know that that definition alone can seem incredibly confusing. In simpler terms, a wrongful death occurs when one person loses their life due to the negligent actions of another individual or entity.

Wrongful deaths occur in a wide variety of ways throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Car accidents
  • Bicycle or pedestrian accidents
  • Commercial truck accidents
  • Bus accidents
  • Swimming pool or hot tub incidents
  • Defective product incidents
  • Medical mistakes

The Elements of Negligence for a Wrongful Death Claim

There are various elements that need to be in place in order for a wrongful death claim to be successful in Pennsylvania.

  1. Duty. It must be shown that there was a duty of care established between the deceased and the defendant (the person alleged to have caused the death). This duty of care will look different depending on the situation at hand for the wrongful death claim. For example, every driver on the roadway owes a duty of care to others around them. This includes the duty to operate their vehicle safely. Medical professionals have a duty of care if they have established a doctor-patient relationship with an individual.
  2. Breach. After establishing that a duty of care was present for the claim, it must be shown that the defendant somehow breached their duty of care to the deceased. This will depend on the situation at hand, of course, but it could include things like operating under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Back to the medical professional example, this could include a doctor prescribing a medication a patient has a known allergy to.
  3. Causation. After showing that a breach of duty occurred, it must be established that the breach directly caused the death.
  4. Damages. Finally, it will need to be shown that the family members and the estate of the deceased suffered some sort of monetary loss as a result of the wrongful death.

We strongly encourage any family member who has lost a loved one due to the negligence of another individual or entity to work with a skilled wrongful death lawyer in Pennsylvania as soon as possible. These claims can become incredibly complicated, and establishing the four elements of negligence should be done with a skilled legal advocate by your side.